DUBLIN - Novelist James Joyce spent the first part of his life trying to leave his native Dublin, a city that in the early 1900's was torn apart by religious and social strife. Not long after his final visit in 1912, Joyce would write his greatest novel, Ulysses -- a stirring depiction of his sometimes hospitable, but often oppressive homeland as told through the eyes of the modern anti-hero, Leopold Bloom.
Leopold Bloom had little occasion to golf, as he figuratively carried the weight of Ireland on his shoulders during a Homeric journey that (it is safe to assume) would never have taken him to the breathtaking links of Royal County Down, or even the 19th hole for that matter.
Dublin-born playwright Oscar Wilde touted the importance of being earnest in his literary masterpiece of the late 19th century, but summarily overlooked by many of Ireland's literary masters was the importance of hitting greens in regulation and having a solid short game.
Since Joyce, Wilde and their typically tragic, occasionally heroic characters didn't carry a Royal and Ancient handicap index, Ireland's literary genius belies the fact that it is, and shall remain, one of the greatest places on the face of mother earth to grip, rip, sip and quip.
And because the northern region of the country is no longer the tumultuous hotbed of religious and political upheaval it was just a few years ago, the entire country has opened itself up to the prospect of memorable golf trips. Even Ireland's literary capital has become a novel home base for an Emerald Isle golf vacation. And should you tire of carding 100's in the "gentle" Irish breezes, you'll find plenty to keep you occupied in what most consider to be a world-class city.
Even after a few pints of Guinness, no Irishman is going to admit that his country has taken a second bar seat to Scotland over the years as the preferred, tradition-laden golf trip of the proverbial duffing Yank. But you can bet Old Tom Morris to Chivas Irons that deep down inside, the inferiority complex is stirring like pot full of potato soup.
We respectfully submit that said inferiority complex is unnecessary, and we have the golf trip to prove it.
Wilde once said he could believe anything, "provided it is incredible."
Dublin and the northeastern coast of Ireland are incredible indeed, and waiting for your first tee shot to cut through the misty morning air.
The Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links on the north side of Dublin is an ideal base to play all of the championship courses on the north side of Dublin - including Portmarnock (previous site of Irish Open and Walker Cup), Royal Dublin, The Island, and not to be overlooked, the Links at Portmarnock.
Portmarnock is built on land that was originally part of the Jameson family estate (think Irish Whiskey) and the house itself was originally called St. Marnock's House.
Edward VII often visited the Jamesons, and on his last official visit in 1907 he unveiled a plaque that was designed to commemorate the marriage between members of two great distilling families, Jameson and Haig. The plaque is still hangs in what was then the secret south garden.
The Jameson family had a nine-hole golf course on the site over 100 years ago, and this original layout is now part of both the Portmarnock Golf Club and the Bernhard Langer designed Golf Links. The Hotel and Golf Links sit just 15 minutes from Dublin International Airport, and just 30 minutes from downtown.
Portmarnock is as self-contained as the Emerald Isle itself, with two full-scale restaurants, a cocktail bar, and the Jameson bar on site. The Links Restaurant sets up well for an informal supper, and the Osborne Restaurant is a more formal affair where you can treat the better half to a nice bottle of red and some traditional Irish smoked salmon while waxing nostalgic about the day's round.
If you love a good pub, the Jameson bar is replete with wood paneled walls, fireplaces, ornate ceilings, and of course, plenty of whiskey. One of the benefits of bedding down at Portmarnock is the access it provides to other parts of the island. After a round at one of the championship tracks north of Dublin, Golfers can make a return day trip to play as far north as Royal County Down in Northern Ireland (site of this years British Senior Open and a top 20 course in world rankings) and as far south as Druids Glen (site of the upcoming Seve Trophy - European PGA tour event). Also within easy reach will be the K-Club (site of the 2006 Ryder Cup) and the European Club.
An awesome addition to the Portmarnock based trip, or an underrated stand-alone golf binge on its own is a trek over to Ireland's often overlooked west coast. This region of Ireland offers the unique combination of great value with unspoiled classic links golf.
Sligo's Tower Hotel and the Atlantic Coast Hotel in Westport are ideal bases for the west Ireland trip, and both provide golf travelers with first class accommodations and amenities. As for the courses of the west -- if not for their somewhat remote locations, many of these facilities would be considered ideal venues for Ireland's major golf tournaments. Test your mettle at Rosses Point County Sligo, Donegal, Enniscrone, Carne and Connemara, and the west coast will leave an indelible impression on your game.
Old Tom Morris designed Royal County Down for the sum of four guineas back in 1889... When told that many golfers thought Royal County Down had too many blind shots, Tommy Armour responded, "there is no such thing as a blind shot to any player with a memory"... The K- Club is considered by many to be the finest Parkland Course in Ireland. The catch? It was designed by Arnold Palmer and only opened in 1992... before his death, golf course architect Eddie Hackett sent a plea to the golf course industry: "It took nature thousands of years to create this and I don't want bulldozers to destroy it. Don't change anything after I've gone or I will turn in my grave."
April 8, 2002
Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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